"Every April, Bordeaux throws a blowout party for the wine trade and media called "primeurs," a big barrel tasting of their new wines from the previous vintage barely seven months after the grapes were picked. But you can’t buy them then because no one knows yet how much they will cost, plus they won’t be bottled for another year or two.
I traveled to Bordeaux last week to taste some of the first growths, aka primeur crus, including châteaux Rothschilds (Lafite and Mouton), Margaux, and Haut-Brion (generally costing hundreds of dollars per bottles), as well as the petite bordeaux that most of us can afford. The red wines are tannic, murky, and powerful — you can easily spot a fellow primeurs taster because our teeth are stained purple and we look like vampires trying to avoid the garlic.
In the next few weeks, the top growths will decide how many hundreds of dollars their wines will cost, while the lesser growths struggle in the $15 to $100 range. And while the 2011 vintage turned out to be quite good in spite of bad weather, it is not up to the levels of 2009 and 2010 — so there probably will be a price drop.
If you have a very good memory, or if you want to bookmark this posting, here are some of the top 2011 wines from the 130-plus tasted in case you want to buy them when you find out their prices and when your wine merchants have them to offer to you.
Best first-growth wine: Château Margaux
An almost-perfect wine in an imperfect vintage. Lovely purple fruits bolstered by large amounts of tannins that are virtually unnoticed at first sip. Great fruit-acid balance. Long on the palate, almost drinkable now put will last for many decades. (Château Ausone came in at a close second.)
Most distinctive wine: Château Le Pin
This former garagiste winery has moved into a small new winery that is as elegant in design as is the wine — lots of dark cherry fruit with that distinctive brûlée, earthy finish for which Le Pin is known. Very few cases are made, so you may not be able to buy it, even if you can afford it.
Best affordable premium Right Bank wine: Château Corbin
Loads of good fruit. Elegant, yet powerful wine with good structure and more tannins than this favorite estate normally displays.
Best affordable premium Left Bank wine: Château Lynch-Bages
A sentimental favorite, but a solid one as well. Dark and rich fruits with lots of essence, supple, yet muscular. Long finish. It’s somewhat low in alcohol — about 13.4 percent — which should appeal to traditionalists.
Best everyday wine: Château Clarke
Substantial and sophisticated with good structure and long-lasting raspberry flavors.
Best new/old winery: Château Quintus
The folks who own the spectacular Château Haut Brion on the Left Bank decided to buy Château Tertre-Dugay on the Right Bank last June because it had a lot of promise if no curb appeal. They re-named it Château Quintus and made a quick turnaround by offering a wine for primeurs. I liked the second-tier wine,Le Dragon de Quintus, better than the estate wine — floral nose with lots of black raspberry fruit on the palate, yet firm and full-bodied."